THEY DIE YOUNG:
In Memorium to Dr. Martin Luther King
(Read at anniversary of the death of Dr. Martin Luther King -- Jonesboro, AR, 1969)
Bill Stroud, Ph. D.
"Has anybody here seen my ole friend Martin?
Can you tell me where he's gone?
He freed a lot of people. But it seems the good--
They die young. I just look around and he's gone."
Yes, they die young. But they die young because they lived before becoming old. They live centuries within the span of youth. They died young, convinced that life must be measured by its dimension and not by its extension. They die young, yet with hoary heads of ageless wisdom learned in the search for justice. Martin died young but not before he lived.
You look around and he's gone? You look too much around. You must have looked around the hope which Martin sparked in thousands of youngsters; for with raised chins poised in flinty determination, black youth now view themselves in dignity, demanding their just place in American culture. You must have looked around that tear shed in pride as the aged black parent watched the son and daughter set their faces steadfastly toward positions of high repute. Look around, but see the hundreds of organizations which have come to life through his death, organizations which are dedicated to the alleviation of suppression of peoples. Martin died young but he was the father of the black American dream.
Some people merely live and die; others die and live. Some cannot really die because their lives extend beyond their own history. Some men merely make history, others change it. Martin's death creates life, for because of his life even the past seems to change. What was once our religious heritage of days of yore now seems spotted with inequity and pain. The great South with its antebellum homes which once evoked a feeling of repose, hospitality and comfort, now has moved out of focus as black hands are seen busily grasping the cotton within the hot fields behind the proverbial magnolias. That past is now seen as it really was, is criticized as it is, and will continue to be pressed to become what it should be.
Martin is yet alive because he has become a symbol which transcends the mere human form. As a symbolic personage he transcends time and his signification reaches beyond that small span of history sandwiched between birth and death. A resurrection has been actualized already for Martin because his spirit of love and peace yet permeates new flesh which will make up the new humanity of the new America.
Has anybody here seen my ole friend Martin? Look for him among the Abrahams. Martin echoed Lincoln's words: "This nation cannot survive half slave and half free." Like Lincoln, Martin took his stand and forced the recognition of the breach within the social structure of America, the breach which was nothing but a crevice which for years had been skillfully covered with the veneer of expediency. And like a Lincoln he died.
Has anybody here seen my ole friend Martin? Look along the paths of John and Bob. He made God's work truly his own; he showed what he would do for his country. We must become a part of what he could do. He "helped a lot of people;" and oh, how he did die young!
We just look around and he's gone? No, we can see him in every determined effort which is made to gain for his people their deserved heritage. We must envision his dream; in every pledge of allegiance we must commit ourselves to his America of humanity, where colors are used for flags and humans used for nothing.
Yes, Martin is still working and marching as every effort is made to heal the prejudiced eye which blinks at blackness. He is reborn in every child who is black and proud. He walks your streets today in every soul who loves humanity first, humanity second, and humanity last.
"The good--they seem to die young. . .
Has anybody here seen my old friend Martin?"